There is a difference between confidence and optimism. Confidence is usually quiet, but your enemies will call you arrogant. Optimism is confidence with enthusiasm, with a tendence to act because the future is expected to be better than today.
For an individual, confidence comes from inner strength - moral values, spiritual enlightenment. Individual optimism comes from the feeling of one's ability to perform well in the coming environment.
For the nation, confidence and optimism is the result of policy. The people feel confident when they know they have a right to belong in the country regardless of the circumstances. The people feel optimistic when they can what they like in the country, within the bounds of the usual individual limitations traded off in any civilised society.
Confidence and optimism becomes an issue in a country when the citizens are differentiated. Like any differentiated product in a market economy, there is a competition for a higher value, based on certain characteristics which the promoters may wish to highlight. When intrinsically homogeneous products, like washing power, are differentiated, the only method of differentiation is branding. This is where promotion and advertising. The differentiation are purely in the minds of those who would benefit from the branding, and they are the politicians. The ordinary men and women which, in this example, are the homogoneous washing power, can only feel bewildered by the sharp differentiation they may been made to realise among themselves that they may even begin to believe in that differentiation in due course. This is treading on dangerous ground.
Sensible governments, as we have seen in the civilised world, have placed great emphasis on the commonness of people. It is this commonness of people that gives rise to the commonwealth of man, a concept I am dismayed that even our more eminent political leaders may have failed to understand. It is the working together of the common people among ourselves that we all share a common future, and depending on what we do and how we do them, a better common future.
One of the greatest failures of the Malaysian economy - and society - is the segregation of the various business communities such that each has short-changed themselves by their failure to open up and trade with each other. This works against the law of economics, and the consequences can only be a degradation in efficiency and competitiveness against the rest of the world.
Strangely, thought not unexpectedly, within such a divided economy, it seems acceptable to bring barbarians within our midst while we refuse to co-operate to work among ourselves. We make a big deal out of the promotion of foreign direct investments, while we are happy to strangle our own home-grown investors through all kinds of economic restrictions.
The result of this misguided policy on investment - the preference of foreign to local - has brought our economy to a hugely mis-structured economy where our graduates are deemed useless. FDIs want to hire cheap and half-thinking individuals so that wages can be kept low. The elite pump primed themselves with construction projects wish hires only illiterate or semi-illiterate. There is no adequate home-grown investment which can only grow through productivity gains and innovation. We are not stuck as a middle-income economy for no reason.
While the deterioration of our education system is a phenomenon to lament - which only the agents of the deterioration can only sing their own phrases - it is not an entirely hopeless situation. Our people, as a result of our diversity, are well-educated in the world outside; where the formal education system may be a near-failure, the world outside the local universities is the school of hard knocks. Some of our chosen geniuses have been knocked down really hard.
The only thing that we all need to learn, including our children, is to have an openness of the mind, so that we can see things as they are for ourselves, rather than believing in what other people may tell us. Learning to think is the only education we need, regardless of the fields of study we or our children may choose to undertake. The ability to think and to acquire knowledge of reality is the very basis for innovation of a better world for all of us.
What is the best form of investment in the current economic crisis? When there are not enough jobs, invest in the education of the people - the first-time job seekers, the retrenched and those how currently clinging onto their jobs. The economy has collapsed because it has gone off-tangent. How to redirect the economy? I won't leave it to the politicians; the politicans should leave it to the people - by providing the preconditions for investment, our own investment.